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Rise And Fall Of A Magical Era – The Ringling Brothers Circus History

Ringling Brothers Circus History
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The Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus is all set for its second winnings as announced by Kenneth Feld and Juliette Feld Grossman. This article will walk you through the glorious past of the Ringling Brothers Circus and will look through the rise and fall of a legacy! Read here about the Ringling Brothers Circus history, what happened to Ringling Brothers Circus, and some less known Ringling Brothers Circus facts. 

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus

On 19th May 1984, the Ringling Brothers opened a small circus in Baraboo, Wisconsin, on this day in 1884, and by the early 20th century had transformed it into the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the leading American circus.

The Ringling Brothers Circus History

Before directly jumping into the Ringling Brothers Circus history, let us shift our focus to its budding days! 

The Rise Of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus

Besides the establishment of Barnum and Bailey Circus, the five Ringling Brothers introduced a small circus in Baraboo, Wisconsin. While the Barnum and Bailey circus witnessed huge success, the Ringling Brothers Circus also saw rapid development and growth so much that they were able to change their mode of transport from caravans to trains! Followed by the huge success of the Ringling Brothers Circus, they purchased the Barnum and Bailey circus after the death of Bailey. But, it was getting tough each day to run them separately in the wake of WW1. 

Thus, in 1919, both were merged and renamed “The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus”. Again during WWII, the circus witnessed huge problems but managed to move from one place to another with the help of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Soon after the war ended, the world was introduced to the entertainment world of television and movies. This resulted in the decline of the circus’s growth and they last performed in Pittsburgh in 1956. But, in an effort to fuel its growth, they modernized the show and discarded the freak event! 

After Field’s son Kenneth joined, the circus company was sold to Mattel for $ 40 million in 1971. Followed by the sale, the opening of Circus World Theme Park was fixed but it was delayed until 1974. But, though the Circus Showcase for Circus World opened on February 21, 1974, the opening of the Circus World theme park was again delayed till 1976. 

The Fall Of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus

Fast forward to 2000, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus could not survive competition from its opponents and thus their growth ceased. Added to it, various animal welfare groups and animal rights organizations, such as PETA, complained against the circus company for mistreating the animals! In response, the company announced that it will remove elephants from the show and the circus itself will close in 2017. So, what happened to Ringling Brothers Circus? Will it ever return with its old-world nostalgia? 

What Happened To Ringling Brothers Circus?

While the Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus was closed in 2017, in the wake of huge losses due to complaints against them by PETA with increasing costs and a decline in ticket sales, the company announced its relaunch in 2023. “In 2023 we will be relaunching Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus,” according to Juliette Feld Grossman, the chief operating officer of Feld. Though the circus will return with its old-world essence, this time the audience would not see any animals! 

what happened to Ringling Brothers Circus

The Ringling Brothers Circus Accident – The Larger Than Life Act

Through the rise and fall of the Ringling Brothers Circus, it witnessed fatal accidents during its performing years! In the year 2014, eight circus aerialists were faced with a fatal accident when one of the support frames collapsed, due to the weakening of a clamp, while performing a show at Providence. 

According to the words of Stephen Payne, a spokesperson for Feld Entertainment, “None of the performers is under life threat though three of them are in critical condition.” Though investigators looked into the matter, the cause of the accident could not be wholly determined. Though the audience freaked in panic, few of them thought it was a part of the show only to realize later what had actually happened! 

This was not the first time when the Ringling Brothers Circus accident was beheld. In 1944, the Hartford Circus Fire took place in Connecticut, which was one of the worst fire disasters in the Brothers Circus history. Though the cause is still unknown,150+ deaths were recorded, amongst many injured. Again an aerial performer was killed in 2004 while she was performing at the show. 

Also Read – Empire State Building Suicides: The Tower Of Tragedy And Majestic Beauty

Ringling Brothers Circus Facts

  1. Though the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus was founded by five Ringling Brothers, they were actually seven siblings. 
  2. During the pre-establishment day of the circus, the brothers used to perform skits and variety performances, known as Ringling Bros. Variety Performance. 
  3. In 1978, Fled Entertainment purchased the ownership of the circus company, with aid from Richard C. Blum for $8 million. 
  4. The Ringling Bros Barnum and Bailey circus college was established to master the students in the art of clowning in 1968. 
  5. Nicole Feld became the first female producer of Ringling Brothers Circus in 2004.
  6. Though the ASPCA sued the circus company for its ill-treatment of their animals, the circus company later came to know of the conspiracy the ASPCA adopted to harm its business. In the year 2012, the ASPCA paid the Circus $9.2 million to settle the conflict. 


Throughout the Ringling Brothers Circus history, we could see the rise and fall of the company in its different developmental stages. But, though the circus witnessed a lot of ups and downs, it never failed to stand up for itself! Now, the world is waiting for the year 2023 to again experience the classic vibe of the greatest show on Earth! 

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